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Clonidine For Anxiety Disorders: A Safe Alternative Treatment Option

Most anxiety disorders are a result of overstimulation and high stress. One treatment that has become popular to help target anxiety disorders is Clonidine. Although this medication is primarily used as a medication for high blood pressure, it can be successfully used to help people cope with their anxiety disorders. It works by acting as an α2 adrenergic agonist – which is effective in helping people “chill” out. You may be wondering, why not just prescribe someone with anxiety a benzodiazepine or SSRI? Side effects and long-term effects.

If you do your research, long term effects of benzodiazepines are not too pleasant. In fact, they are linked with the development of neurodegenerative diseases like dementia. The research shows that the more you take a benzodiazepine, the more you increase your risk of developing dementia. In order to avoid increasing your risk to a severe disease like dementia, and to avoid the unwanted side effects of an SSRI, your doctor may suggest the medication Clonidine to help treat your anxiety.

What is Clonidine?

Clonidine is officially classified as a centrally acting α2 adrenergic agonist. Some think that it acts centrally as an imidazoline receptor agonist. Clonidine is a medication that is used primarily as a means to help individuals lower their high blood pressure. It has been approved as an alternative treatment for ADHD, anxiety disorders, panic attacks, and various pain conditions.

Benefits of Clonidine for Anxiety Disorders

Perhaps the most appealing aspect of taking Clonidine to treat anxiety is that it doesn’t result in slowed cognition to the same degree as various benzodiazepines. Various benzodiazepines like Xanax and Klonopin have been shown to lead to dementia if used excessively. Anytime a medication class is linked to developing a serious disease like dementia, I’d think it would be smart to avoid. Clonidine is generally considered a safer, more viable replacement, but may not be quite as powerful as the benzodiazepine class.

1. Increased relaxation

The main reason people take anything for anxiety is so that they can experience relaxation. Feelings of high stress, social anxiety, or just general anxiety can be extremely uncomfortable. Clonidine helps people feel more relaxed and at-ease in most types of situations that would provoke anxiety.

Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7305609

2. Calmness

Most anti-anxiety medications (anxiolytic) are going to make a person feel a sense of calmness when taken. As with any medication that suppresses activity in the central nervous system, it is going to make you feel calmer. This should allow you to feel less of a victim to your anxiety issues.

3. Focus

Clonidine has been researched as a treatment for attention deficit disorder and is found to be very effective to manage the symptoms.  The increased focus is not the same as you’d get from a medication like Adderall, it’s more as a result of decreasing arousal (or over-excitement) that could be impairing your concentration.

If you are experiencing a lack of focus as a result of your anxiety and/or if you have comorbid attention-deficit disorder, this medication may end up working wonders to help treat both conditions.

Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24472251

4. Reduced blood pressure

There are links between high stress and high blood pressure. If you have stress, you are more likely to develop hypertension. Although you may not have high blood pressure, some individuals are struggling with both conditions. In order to kill two birds with one stone (anxiety and hypertension), Clonidine may be a viable treatment option.

Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9894438

5. Reductions in hyperactivity

There is a reason that Clonidine is used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. It’s because the medication helps hyperactive people calm down. It does this by lowering blood pressure – which naturally is going to lower a person’s overall arousal.

Personal experience taking Clonidine for anxiety

I have personally taken it to help treat my anxiety disorder and have found it very helpful to take on an as-needed basis as opposed to taking a more powerful benzodiazepine medication like Xanax. I have a strong history of both social anxiety and generalized anxiety and would like to keep my risk for developing dementia as low as possible.

I have found that Clonidine helps more for the generalized anxiety component as opposed to the social aspect, but some may still find it effective. I did not find as though Clonidine helped with my focus – in fact my thinking was quite the opposite. I was a little sporadic with thinking, but it definitely calmed me down so that my anxiety didn’t get me upset.

Why Clonidine is gaining popularity for treatment of anxiety disorders

There are a number of reasons why Clonidine is a good option to consider when targeting anxiety. Many doctors and psychiatrists are beginning to realize that this medication is pretty safe. Although it’s not a first line of treatment for anxiety, it is one of the safer medications if you have “just anxiety.” If you have anxiety and hypertension and/or anxiety and comorbid ADHD or hyperactivity, this may be an ideal fit.

  • Benzodiazepines are pretty dangerous: Not only do most benzo’s carry a significantly increased risk towards developing dementia, the withdrawal can be incredibly difficult. These also can impair overall cognition.
  • Clonidine is pretty safe: This medication has been extensively researched and is considered pretty safe. Obviously everyone responds differently and the medication can be dangerous if not used properly. However, in comparison to other anti-anxiety medications, this is one of the safer medications.
  • Minimal side effects: The side effect profile is something that makes this medication stand out. Although it may make individuals drowsy, dizzy, or lightheaded – most of these go away as the body becomes accustomed to the medication. Additionally, dosage can be reduced to minimize any potential unwanted effects.
  • No major cognitive impairments: Although any medication that suppresses activity in the central nervous system is likely to impair cognition, if taken at a proper dosage, impairment should be minimal. You may not even notice any impairment in cognition when taking this medication.
  • SSRI’s too powerful: Most people with just generalized anxiety do not necessarily need an SSRI for treatment. Although SSRI’s are preferred to benzodiazepines because they are considered safer and less addicting, many people cannot tolerate or respond poorly to SSRI’s. In this case, a medication like Clonidine may be a great option.

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{ 14 comments… add one }
  • Stable November 25, 2014, 10:57 pm

    I have been taking an SSRI for the last 7 years or so and now for the 6 months or clonidine which was fine until it was found that it has contributed to me having dry eyes. What is good is that this article has provided me with simple clear information. Thankyou

  • Scott Campbell September 30, 2015, 12:20 pm

    Thank you for posting this clear, medically backed up and concise recommendation of clonidine. I have been on an ssri & clonazapam for 17 years. I’ve been looking for a replacement for the clonazepam for a while due to the risk of dementia. My doc prescribed chlonidine as a trial. After a week, everything thing you stated in here is spot on and matches with other reseaerch I’ve done. Now, to start to lower the clonazapam… yikes:-)

  • lee December 12, 2015, 6:04 pm

    Do you have a recommendation for ADHD with anxiety that does not include stimulants or benzos?

    • Peg November 11, 2016, 4:48 pm

      I take Clonidine with Strattera for adult ADHD and Anxiety. I take Clonidine at night and it helps me sleep without being groggy in the morning. Then I take my Strattera in the morning. Being doing this for about 6 months and it’s working really well for me as a middle aged person who is really now just dealing with having these issues for all of my life. Strattera is not a stimulant and I was insistent to my doctor that I would not take anything that was one.

  • Me December 20, 2015, 4:52 am

    Hello :). I tried a beta blocker called Propranolol, which led me into a new severe depression (I have recurring depression) I hadn’t had an episode in years, and my psychiatrist said it was due to the Propranolol. (It was the only thing that was changed). Is clonidine likely to cause the same side effects? I need an beta-blocker due to high blood pressure, but I am resistant to try as I am afraid of a new depressive episode. Would really appreciate an answer :)

  • Dr ajay vashishtha March 19, 2016, 1:25 am

    Hello. I’m a psychiatrist suffering from pain of fibromyalgia and one component of this fibromyalgia is anxiety and depression. I tried almost everything including duloxetene, pregabalin, tryptomer, Gabapentin, ketamine infusion and benzodazepine like water or daily food. Because I was tapering off opioid due to possible addiction to it, I started to have clonidine to decrease the increased sympathetic nervous system tone. But now I’m feeling like I didn’t have any anxiety in past. My anxiety has gone miraculously and I’m feeling very lightheaded. My pain score decreased from 8 to 2 in pain severity scale. So it helped me in reducing anxiety as well as pain and tenderness of fibromyalgia. Any reviews please?

    • CC April 1, 2016, 1:50 pm

      I think you were confused, and you are confusing me with the following sentence: “But now I’m feeling like I didn’t have any anxiety in past.” WHAT IS THIS SUPPOSED TO MEAN?

      • Annie August 16, 2016, 3:44 pm

        What I think they are saying is, that they have been dealing with their anxiety for so long now and at last it has gone so quickly, as though it were never there for all those years. GET IT!

  • Cathy March 20, 2016, 10:55 am

    Dementia was mention as a potential side effect of benzodiazapam use; however addition was not mentioned and the potential for seizures when stopping any benzo. As an addiction nurse, Clonidine for anxiety is absolutely the safer medication. Thank you.

  • Katherine May 20, 2016, 9:33 am

    Hi. I took Prozac for 15 years for depression and anxiety, I had a horrific time coming off it and it has been suggested that clonidine may aid withdrawal and treat anxiety. I have had my cortisol levels tested and they are extremely high, so clonidine may also aid this. Does this make sense to anyone?

    • Gretchen July 7, 2016, 2:46 am

      Katherine, What did you find out? I have just started clonidine because of high cortisol levels. Thanks.

  • brian June 5, 2016, 7:23 pm

    Every time you think you found something that isn’t addictive it backfires. Clonidine works pretty well if you don’t have problems with nasal congestion or dry eyes. I can handle the dry eyes but not being able to breathe is something I cannot. Constipation can happen also.

  • Gretchen July 4, 2016, 2:32 pm

    My doctor started me on .1 mg of clonidine, taken at bedtime. I wake up shaking and anxious. Do I need a higher dose? I have taken clonazepam for 16 years. 1 mg at night. My doctor switched me to lorazepam recently. I take up to 4 a day.

    I have been having extreme panic and anxiety due to high cortisol levels. Do you know anything about how to lower cortisol levels? I have stopped working, cut out as much stress as possible. My endocrinologist says that the high cortisol is physiological. Any ideas you may have, I would very much appreciate. Thank you.

  • Kim E Storer November 22, 2016, 7:28 am

    Clonidine can be really dangerous if taken for many years. I have used it for severe anxiety and it has caused me to have kidney problems!! People do your research on this drug!! It is not meant for long term use.

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